The Equestrian Who Rode Into Saab
Sanna Wallenius has found the perfect combination. With one foot in the stable and the other in one of Saab’s workshop hangars in Linköping, she gets to enjoy her two greatest passions: equestrian sports and aviation.
It may seem that there is a vast difference between organising big equestrian competitions and managing projects in the production of Saab’s airborne surveillance solution GlobalEye, but for Sanna Wallenius it is only minor.
“Coordinating a large project requires essentially the same knowledge and skills, no matter the field or situation,” says Sanna.
Sanna currently divides her time between her job at Saab and organising the Jönköping Horse Show, which is Sweden’s largest national indoor equestrian competition. The competition kicks off in the last week of October, but Sanna is already busy coordinating everything from personnel and sponsors to building up everything needed for the competition and for the horse and equestrian sports trade show held in connection with the competition.
“As project manager I am responsible for ensuring that structures, such as the stands, courses, and course equipment, are in place. But I’m also involved with the budget, contracting suppliers, and supporting our main officials to ensure they have the best possible conditions to perform their duties.”
At Saab, Sanna is sub-project manager in the production of one of the company’s major products: GlobalEye. GlobalEye is the most advanced airborne surveillance system in the world, with a unique ability to monitor land, air and sea with a single solution. The solution combines an array of sophisticated sensors with the Global 6000 aircraft from Bombardier, and is assembled at Saab in Linköping.
Sanna’s home base is one of the bigger workshop hangars at Saab in Linköping, and her duties involve planning, follow-up, and budgeting, as well as daily contact with the other members of the team – technicians, mechanics, and electricians.
“It’s a really fun job and a very awesome product – an already cool aircraft that we’re making even cooler. Our job involves reworking and modifying the aircraft and installing Saab’s equipment in it. Each aircraft takes about a year and a half,” she says.
Sanna also states that Saab, as an employer, has so far shown considerable understanding for her pursuits outside of the company, and has granted her a temporary leave of absence (equal to half her working hours) in order for her to work on the Jönköping Horse Show. Right now she commutes weekly between Linköping and Falsterbo in Skåne, where the Jönköping Horse Show competition organisation shares premises and resources with the Falsterbo Horse Show.
“Saab has been very receptive to this arrangement, perhaps because, in part, it fits very well into my current project work. But I also think that my managers at Saab see an upside: they recognise that I get energy from horse riding which I can then utilise in my job.
“In general, I think that it’s important for an employer to make sure their employees have a good work-life balance – that’s how they can retain employees in the long term. And in this Saab is a forward-looking employer,” she adds.
Sanna started horse riding in earnest at the age of seven with her mother. Later, her other great interest emerged: aviation.
Her first steps towards this industry were taken at the age of 21, which is when she started working as a flight attendant for TUI (formerly Fritidsresor). Sanna worked as a flight attendant for about ten years, but since she dreamt of flying herself, she began working part-time in order to train to become a pilot in Ljungskile outside Gothenburg. After finishing her flight training in Tucson, Arizona, USA, she received her commercial pilot licence in 2015. During her years as a flight attendant, she also completed a two-year project coordinator course.
The question was: how and where would she be able to combine all of these skills?
“I knew that I wanted to work in aviation and project management, and, while I was contemplating this, Saab began to appear as a sponsor for equestrian sports, so I felt that this was the right path,” she explains. “After all, I was looking for a workplace where I could do all of these things, and I get to do so at Saab. Here I am able to train, develop, and change jobs without changing employers, which I feel is the greatest advantage of Saab as an employer.”
For Sanna, the two worlds complement each other very well. From horse riding she gets the calmness needed to unwind after a busy day at work.
“It’s great to go to the stable after a long day. When I enter that environment I feel a sense of calm and it’s like I’m inside a bubble. And I don’t need to talk, I just ‘do’. I feel the horse’s warm muzzle and that the horse appreciates my visit.”
And there is another similarity: power.
“Aircraft and horses are both very powerful. Riding at full gallop and piloting an aircraft at full throttle feel rather similar.”